He was born in 1926 in New York City, a son of an Italian immigrant to America, and a mother who was born in the U.S. soon after her parents arrived in America. His family was impoverished. When he could go to school, he studied art and music. He never completed high school.
At age 18, he was drafted to serve in the Army and was shipped to Europe toward the end of World War II. While it was clear that Germany would lose the war, the terror of several near-death experiences gave him a taste of the inhumanity of armed conflicts.
When his unit entered Germany, they were assigned to the duty of liberating one of the auxiliary concentration camps of Dachau. All of the children and women sent to the camp had already been killed, and the day before their arrival half of the men had been killed. This was another shattering moment for him.
He was assigned duty as part of the occupying force in Germany. When he sat down to eat with a Black soldier, he was demoted in rank and assigned the duty of digging up the graves of fallen allied troops. This was another formative time in his life.
When he returned to the U.S., he became active in the civil rights movement. He was one of those who marched at Selma, Alabama. By this time, Tony Bennett had become one of America’s greatest singers. He was asked to sing to rally the marchers. His stage was constructed out of empty coffins representing African Americans who had been killed but whose bodies were never recovered.
Tony Bennett’s death was a reminder to us all of how great America can be. His life was one that should be admired by all. It’s also a reminder of how crucible moments can define us as persons. He used the experiences from World War II to shape his beliefs.
Tony Bennett’s life is a lesson for all of us. We should let our values and beliefs be shaped by our own life experiences and not by those who tell us what we should value or believe.
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“Regardless of religion or race or ethnic background we are all human and we are all on this planet together. So what better reason do you need to not tolerate any form of violence against another human being?” – Tony Bennett